July 2015

Preparing for Re-entry

July 31, 2015

S and H with Mischa

We are making our way back to Baltimore over these next few days. To say our time in Nova Scotia was terrific is an understatement. My only complaint is that it was too short.

I can’t tell you how special it was to bring the girls to my childhood home for the first time. Within minutes, they were running around with their cousins, diving into the ocean, and gobbling up my mother’s biscuits like they’d been doing it all forever. Everyone was amazed that H and S were so comfortable, so confident, so adaptable. They had a blast, which made the visit all the more enjoyable for B and me.

No matter how great a trip has been, I usually look forward to getting back to my own space, but at the moment, I can’t say that’s true. Instead, I feel a little anxious about getting back to the usual routines and preparing for September. Re-entry isn’t always easy.

I’m curious whether you do anything to help yourself transition from vacation or travel mode back to the usual daily schedule. Do you ease yourself into it? Do you jump right back in? I’d love to hear!

Enjoy this last weekend of July and I’ll see you back here early next week.

Image: S and H with their new friend Mischa, Zoe Saint-Paul

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Since I’m in Nova Scotia this week, I thought this post about treating mosquito bites would be a good one to resurrect. I really need to write about preventing the little critters from biting in the first place, but I’m still trying to figure that one out

Angel Point

After B and I began dating, he came home with me to eastern Canada for my sister Olga’s wedding and met the family. He not only loved them (which is hard not to do), he loved everything about Nova Scotia. Except for one thing: the mosquitoes.

Our family cottage sits on the Northumberland Strait. There are fields and woods everywhere, as well as marshlands, which are home to many lovely birds, funky-sounding frogs…and plenty of mosquitoes. And boy, do those critters love fresh meat. I’ll never forget when B and I attempted a hike during part of our honeymoon in Cape Breton (the northern part of the province). B decided he wasn’t going to let the mosquitoes ruin everything, so he pulled on thick jeans, socks, boots, long sleeves, and a baseball hat; then he slathered himself with poisonous DEET from head to toe. He was the first one out of the car, and he headed confidently for the trail. When I looked up, all I could see was a large grey cloud around him, following him into the woods. The next thing I knew, he was running back to the car, arms flailing, spewing curses left and right…and off we went to find some fish chowder and tea to make him feel better about the defeat.

When something like DEET won’t even keep mosquitoes away, the only thing to do is move to phase two — treating the nasty bites once you’ve got them. Since the past winter was so mild in North America, many kinds of bug larvae did not die off in their usual numbers, so this summer has been unusually bad when it comes to critters, especially the blood-sucking kind.

You can blame mosquito saliva for itchy bites. Our bodies react to the saliva by producing histamine, so the redness and itchiness are actually a mild allergic reaction. Healing time depends on the person, since some of us are more susceptible and sensitive to mosquitoes. Here are a few remedies I know of to help soothe those bad bites when you get them:

Ice cubes. We used to do this frequently when I was a kid. You grab a small bowl of ice cubes and apply one to the bite, holding it there as long as you can stand it. Keep doing this until (a) the ice cube melts, (b) you can’t feel anything anymore, or (c) you’re bored and need to move on. Obviously, this little trick numbs the skin, taking away the itchiness and calming the redness and heat.

Baking soda. What can baking soda not do? For a bad bite, create a paste using baking soda and warm water and apply it to the itchy area. Keep it there for a bit and then wash it off.

Calamine lotion. This is an old-fashioned over-the-counter treatment that people swear by. I think we had some when I was young. Not a bad thing to keep in the cupboard if you live in or are visiting a bug-infested area.

Saliva. A friend was just telling me about this one. Sounds kind of gross, but what could be cheaper and easier to use? You just take some of your own saliva and apply it generously to the bite. Also, you can mix your saliva with baking soda to create a paste. Apparently this trick works, though I haven’t tried it.

Salt water. It was always soothing to hop in the ocean to soothe bad bites. It didn’t take all the itch and aggravation away, but salt water definitely helped decrease the itchiness and speed up the healing process.

Aloe. Aloe is an incredible healer and helps soothe skin irritation (from burns and the like), so a little dabbed straight on a bite would really make a difference.

There are a host of other remedies people swear by. Check out this list — sent by my friend Irene, who inspired me to write this post — which includes herbal tinctures, foods, and various items you probably have hanging around your house.

Got any effective or unique bite remedies you’d like to share?

P.S. Lest you never want to visit Nova Scotia now for fear of the mosquitoes, let me reassure you that they’re not always terrible, and they’re definitely an improvement over the type of mosquitoes we have in Maryland, which you never see but somehow manage to bite you 20 times before you have time to walk more than a few feet. Nova Scotia mosquitoes are not so evil and sneaky: They’re bigger (so they’re easier to see), and they buzz — both things that help you more easily dispatch them to mosquito heaven.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

– See more at: http://slowmama.com/2012/07/page/2/#sthash.pBFcDg7Y.dpuf


Hello from Maine!

July 22, 2015


Though we’ve had lots of rain and thunder storms since arriving, Maine is a beautiful place — especially at this time of year.

As soon as we arrived, I came down with a terrible sinus cold, which is kicking my butt. I’m throwing everything at it in hopes of being over it by the time we hit the road for Nova Scotia tomorrow morning. That doesn’t look so likely at this point, but so long as I’m going in the right direction, that’s fine with me. Hopefully I’ll be better by the weekend at least.

Each year I try to take at least one tech-free break in the summer and next week will be it. Mags will stop in with a post so be sure to come by for that, and there might be a throw-back post here as well.

In the meantime, how is your summer going so far? Are you getting some time to re-create, or are things are busy as ever?


Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



Summer Vacation

July 17, 2015

Boats of Colour

There’s a whole lot of packing going on at my house today. In the wee hours tomorrow morning, we’ll be flying the friendly skies to New Hampshire and making our way to Maine for five days to see family. Later next week, we’ll then drive up to Nova Scotia for a week to see more family and hang out at the beach.

I’m so looking forward to it. Not only has it been four years (!) since I’ve been able to get home, but it will be S’s and H’s first time in Nova Scotia. They will meet many aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time. To say everyone is excited about this visit is an understatement!

So, as you can imagine, it’s a crazy day trying to pull everything together for the trip, run last minute errands, and oh yeah, work. I’ll check in with you next week from the beautiful state of Maine. Hope you have a lovely and slow weekend where ever you may be!

Image: picography


by Margaret Cabaniss

To be fair, I don’t have a trick here so much as…a book. This book, to be specific: Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. My sister’s almost-three-year-old loves it — and as he has been on an all-ABCs-all-the-time kick for the last six months, I feel like you can safely trust his judgment. The illustrations are lush and colorful, and every page is crammed full of more exotic fruits and vegetables than you can shake a stick at.

The “exotic” part here seems to be part of its appeal: Beyond the standard apple/banana rotation he sees in every other book, it’s also full of huckleberries, jicama, endive, and xigua — words and pictures so strange they’re almost Dr. Seussian, but even better for being real.

My sister, seeing how the newness captivated him, seized the opportunity to get him to taste a few of these things, too. For each trip to the store, she and D settle on a new fruit or veggie to try — then they hunt through the produce section or the farmer’s market, on the lookout for the mystery item from his book. Once home, D will climb up on his step stool to help prepare it (or watch mommy cut it), then they both sit down together and try a bite, describing what they taste.

Something about the treasure hunt/science experiment approach here really seems to work: The kid who won’t eat meat other than hamburger and doesn’t like any of the food on his plate to touch has tried radishes, brussels sprouts, dates, cabbage, kiwi, watermelon, zucchini, mango, and kohlrabi — and so far, he’s liked most of what he’s tasted. (Next up, he’s angling for artichoke and figs.) I don’t think I tasted half these things until after college.

Of course, simply trying new vegetables doesn’t mean he suddenly wants a heaping plateful of cabbage and radishes at dinner every night — he is still two, after all — but the simple act of exploring the market together, helping to prepare what they find, and getting the new thing to pass his lips is good practice and encouragement through this picky-eater stage. Hopefully some of that openness to new things will stick with him.

What about you? What have you found to be helpful in getting your kids to try new things? (Zoe has a great round-up of ideas here.) Any other great books to recommend?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


Have you seen Pixar’s latest animated film, Inside Out? Parents on my adoption and parenting boards have been raving about it, so when B’s mom was in town recently we all went. It was the girls’ first time at a movie theater (if you don’t count the IMAX at the Maryland Science Center).

For an adoptive parent with degrees in psychology and counseling (and someone who’s fascinated with brain science generally), this film could not have been more up alley.

The story focuses on an 11-year-old girl named Riley who has loving parents and a happy life in Minnesota: She’s crazy about hockey, likes to be silly, and enjoys hanging out with her friends. Then Riley’s family moves to San Francisco so her father can take a new job, and Riley finds herself struggling with sadness, fear, and anger.

A lot of the movie takes place in Riley’s brain, where five of her dominant emotions are played by cute little characters named “Joy,” “Sadness,” “Anger,” “Disgust,” and “Fear.” Joy has been running the show for most of Riley’s life, but since the move to California, Joy is having trouble hanging on to the controls. Riley’s core memories, which haven’t been touched by any sadness, are beginning to turn blue, and her “personality” islands (Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Goofball Island, etc.) are starting to crumble. Much of the story follows Joy as she tries to find a way to become the dominant lens through which Riley views life again — and a very important lesson Joy learns along the way.

The story is such a clever way of showing what goes on inside us — the things that make us us. I totally understand why this movie made a lot of parents cry, especially the parents whose children’s core memories have been sad from the beginning, whose “personality islands” are in rough shape or have not been formed by loving, life-giving situations and people. I got teary in a couple of places myself.

And then I read this short article and wish every parent would read it, especially if you’ve seen the movie and know any adoptive families, foster families, or children who’ve had difficult childhood experiences. It’s really insightful, even if you just want to understand how your own well-adjusted, healthy, happy children came to be how they are.

Inside Out has given parents and children a great story and fun characters to use as a launching pad for hard conversations, as well as a language to talk about complex emotions and behaviors. Kudos to Pixar and Disney for creating a touching movie that is speaking to so many parents and children.

Have you seen Inside Out? Any thoughts about that article?


Friday Inspiration

July 10, 2015

Well, this isn’t exactly inspiration, but it did make me smile. I haven’t done yoga for a long time now, but I can relate to random thoughts invading my brain while trying to be all relaxed and zen.

Also, am I the only one who doesn’t like to concentrate on my breathing too long, or else it starts feeling unnatural and weird and I can’t relax? I know that’s not how it’s supposed to work… I should probably stick to Pilates or dance. Actually, at this point, anything would be an improvement.

Any exciting plans this weekend? Hope it’s a good and slow one. See you back here next week!


Internet Menagerie

July 8, 2015

Let’s kick off the week with a trip around the web. If you’ve stumbled on anything interesting lately, please leave it in the comments!

  • The next way I’m going to try green beans. (Smitten Kitchen)

 Image: picjumbo

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Have you ever heard of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or the Danish idea of Hygge?  I hadn’t until I saw this article in Mother Nature Network about seven different cultural concepts from other countries that aren’t common in the U.S.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term and refers to something called “forest bathing” which involves spending time in the woods and natural areas as a way to prevent illness. There’s apparently science behind this idea: As MNN’s Catie Leary writes:

“The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.”

As for hygge, it’s a Danish concept, loosely translated as “togetherness,” and related to the concept of coziness, but goes beyond that, as it’s more of a mental state than a physical one. According to VisitDenmark (the country’s official tourism site):

“The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.” Hygge’s high season is winter, and Christmas lights, candles galore, and other manifestations of warmth and light, including warm alcoholic beverages, are key to the concept.

Hygge might be why Danes have long been considered some of the happiest people on earth, at least for as long as people have been studying them, even though they have long, cold winters.

I can really relate to both concepts, though I never had descriptors for them. I grew up in nature and still find it very therapeutic. And despite the fact that I hate the cold, there is something I really miss about the winters I spent growing up in Nova Scotia and I think “hygge” sums it up well.

There are five other concepts in that article that are equally interesting, and among people I know, I’ve seen them practiced in some way here, but not as concepts or practices that pervade American culture. That doesn’t mean we can’t adopt some of them as individuals and families, though.

The writer’s other point about traditions and holidays is interesting and worth a conversation, but I’ll save that for another post.

Do any of those cultural concepts appeal to you? Are there others you might put on this list?

Image: Jordan McQueen at picjumbo 



by Margaret Cabaniss

I was about to go looking through the archives for some good July 4 recipes when I stumbled across this post from last year; apparently I had the same idea then, too. Definitely breaking out a few of these this weekend…

SlowMama's Summer Recipes
It’s been a while since we’ve had a good recipe round-up around these parts, but the Fourth of July — a.k.a., America’s High Holy Day of Summer — seemed like as good a time as any. The SlowMama archives are positively busting with great summer dishes; here are some of my favorites that seemed particularly grill-worthy:

Homemade Sodas

Homemade Sodas
You’re so fancy. (And if you prefer your lemonade sans gas, try Ann’s basil variety — still one of my favorite summer drinks.)

Boiled Peanuts

Make them for the nostalgia factor, make them because they’re best eaten when it’s a million degrees out — just make them. (Or, if you prefer your peanuts Thai-inspired, go with these chili lime peanuts instead.)

Guacamole Salad

Recipe: Guacamole Salad
I make this side dish every chance I get in the summer. Would go great with some grilled chicken and corn on the cob…


Another tomato-based side, but a little more Italian-y. If you’re lucky enough to be seeing fresh tomatoes at the market or in your garden already, make this one immediately.

Summer Ceviche

A little something different from your traditional burgers and dogs. This would be amazing as a starter.

Quinoa Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, and Roasted Pepitas

Ann’s technique for making perfect quinoa is the secret to this dish’s awesomeness. A great change of pace for a summer potluck.

Curried Chicken Salad

chicken salad plate
I just made this one last weekend, and it felt like it was gone five minutes later; it’s a total crowd-pleaser. Throw a couple extra chicken breasts on the grill, and you can pull it together in no time.

Triple Berry Pie

Triple Berry Pie
Still my favorite summer pie, hands down — and we’re just about entering peak berry season, when it really shines. (And look how patriotic it is!) If you prefer something a little more traditional, though, try Zoe’s recipe for basic pie crust — and don’t forget the dairy-free coconut whipped cream!

Chocolate Mint Pudding Popsicles

Pudding Popsicles
I completely forgot about these! This is definitely happening.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookie plate
Can’t have a cookout without ’em.

I feel like there were so many other recipes I could have added here — the watermelon granita Ann posted just this week, for one, or a Pimm’s cup, or even this peach crisp… Got any particular favorites? What’s on your July 4 menu?

Images: SlowMama